3 of Boston’s earliest sports villains

Maurice Richard, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jean Beliveau were top rivals of Boston sports teams through the '50s and '60s.

Bill Russell Wilt Chamberlain NBA
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain's individual rivalry captivated the NBA in the 1960s. –Dick Raphael / The Boston Globe

In the spirit of March brackets, Boston.com launched its own: Voting to decide who is Boston’s biggest sports villain. The Boston sports villain bracket continues with round-by-round voting, so head over and let your voice be heard.

Sports rivalries have to be born somewhere.

For the Red Sox and Yankees, it started with Harry Frazee, the owner who sold Babe Ruth and other top players to New York in the late 1910s, spawning years of Yankees dominance.

For the Bruins and Canadiens, it started in the Original 6, when the NHL was comprised of only six teams for 25 years.

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For the Celtics and Lakers, it started when an NBA legend who had already cultivated his own rivalry with the Celtics joined the Los Angeles Lakers.

These three athletes were early villains in Boston sports history.

Maurice Richard 

The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, named after the high-flying Canadiens forward, is given annually to the player who leads the NHL in goals scored that season.

Richard played in 18 seasons for the Canadiens. He led the NHL in goal scoring five times. He was the first NHL player to reach 500 goals, and his 544 career goals are most in Canadiens history.

Add eight Stanley Cups (five in a row, from 1956-1960), 33 career hat-tricks, and 82 career playoff goals (eighth most all-time), one of which defeated the Bruins in 1958 to win the Stanley Cup.

Richard was unlike anything the NHL had seen before and played a major role in beating the Bruins throughout the ’40s and ’50s.

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain played 15 NBA seasons during a period in which the NBA expanded from nine to 17 teams. During his career, Chamberlain played the Celtics (112 regular season games) more than any other franchise except for the Knicks, averaging 28.7 points against Boston in those games. Ninety four of those games, along with 49 matchups in the playoffs, came against Bill Russell’s Celtics teams and became known for the individual rivalry between Russell and Chamberlain.

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Chamberlain outscored Russell in their matchups by more than ten points on average, while Russell did everything he could to guard Chamberlain, who stood three inches taller and 50 pounds heavier.

But, as Bob Ryan put it for NBA.com, Russell held the ultimate trump card. Russell’s Celtics played Chamberlain for the Eastern Conference title six times and for the NBA championship twice. Chamberlain only beat the C’s in the playoffs once.

“He [Russell] wound up on the winning side more often than not. In the 10 years in question, Russell won nine championships to Wilt’s one,” Ryan wrote. “The argument will rage on forever: Did Wilt just not know how to win, or did he lack the supporting cast that Russell enjoyed?

Jean Beliveau

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The Bruins played the Canadiens in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals in 1957 and 1958. They lost both times.

Jean Beliveau scored 24 points in 20 playoff games in those playoff runs combined. He, alongside Maurice and Henri Richard, starred on Canadiens teams that dominated the NHL through the ’50s, and Beliveau would go on to captain the Habs through the ’60s.

Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cup championships during his 20-year NHL career, second-most by any individual player in league history (Henri Richard, who continued playing into the mid-’70s, won one more Cup in 1973.) He scored the third-most goals in Canadiens history (507), had the third-most assists (688), and is the second-best total scorer in the franchise’s history.

Beliveau won the Cup for the final time in 1971 when he was 39 years old. One year after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970, the Canadiens defeated the Bruins in the playoffs’ quarterfinals. The Bruins would go on to win the Cup again in 1972, but Beliveau helped prevent a true Bruins dynasty ruling the first three years of the ’70s.

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Beliveau won the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP) twice, was a ten-time All-Star, and led the NHL in scoring in 1955-1956. He ranks 42nd in all-time NHL points (1219).

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